3 more cases of Legionnaire's Disease confirmed in outbreak linked to Disneyland

Orange County Health Care Agency officials on Thursday were investigating other sources of Legionnaire's Disease outside of an outbreak linked to nearly a dozen from visitors to Disneyland.

Of the 15 who have contracted the Legionella infection, 11 visited Disneyland in September, where the principal source is believed to be two cooling towers, which have since tested negative for the bacteria.

Three new cases, bringing the total to 15, were reported Wednesday. Two of the three infected had been to Disneyland.

Two people, who had other health-related issues, died after getting infected, but they had not visited Disneyland, said Julie MacDonald of the OC Health Care Agency.

The disease is not contagious. It is contracted from water droplets in the air, MacDonald said.

Legionella bacteria are commonly found everywhere, but it doesn't usually pose a threat, MacDonald said. "That bacteria exists everywhere in many, many places, but it is only
problematic when it erupts in large quantities," MacDonald said.

A public water fountain, for instance, could be a source of the bacteria.

The cases of Legionella infection were first reported Sept. 27 and continued through Wednesday. Legionnaire's Disease has been on the uptick nationally in recent years, but this outbreak has been limited to Anaheim so far, MacDonald said.

The infections likely began in late August or early September and continued through late last month, officials said. It can take two to 10 days before symptoms surface.

The ages of those affected range from 52 to 94. Four of the 15 infected are Orange County residents who did not visit the theme park but lived in or were in Anaheim at some point.

Thirteen of the infected were hospitalized. None of the infected are related in any way.

The county issued an order on Nov. 8 shutting down the two cooling towers at Disneyland. Tests showed no Legionella bacteria in the towers on Nov. 2 and Nov. 6. The towers were sanitized on Nov. 4.

Disneyland will have to go through many more procedures, including continued sanitizing of the towers, before reopening them, officials said. A plan for ongoing maintenance of them going forward must also be submitted and approved.

"Enhanced monitoring" of the towers will continue for the next six months. "On Oct. 27, we learned from the Orange County Health Care Agency of increased Legionnaire's disease cases in Anaheim," said Dr. Pamela Hymel, the chief medical officer for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

"We conducted a review and learned that two cooling towers had elevated levels of Legionella bacteria," Hymel said. "These towers were treated with chemicals that destroy the bacteria and are currently shut down. We have proactively shared this information with (the OC Health Care Agency) and given our actions, they have indicated there is no longer any known risk associated with our facilities."

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